I work when I want to work

(Someone immediately says “psshh, ok.”)

Here’s some context:

I’ve been asked several times about “work-life balance” while speaking publicly. The question often comes when I talk about career growth or planning. My immediate answer is generally pretty terse, and requires some explanation.

For the most part, I work when I wanna work.

This post is probably most impactful for young professionals deciding how to navigate their personal and professional life or stressed out professionals needing a way to regain control. It’s also a slight side-eye to micro-managing bosses.

Explanation:

Aside from a few semi-obvious caveats, I generally work when I want to. I’m often in the office, but sometimes I’m at home. Or outside. At a coffee shop meeting a mentee or mentor. Out for a walk during the day. Running an errand or simply taking a slow morning to enjoy a cup of coffee and a chat. I take 3-day weekends 10–12 times a year. This is also above and beyond taking much needed vacations.

(A gasp is heard in the back crowd. Someone scoffs to my left.)

Now here’s the other side. Other times, I might work until 10pm if I’m in a groove or there’s an opportunity I want to capitalize on. I might do some major refactoring on a rainy Sunday if I’m feeling motivated. I might meet my team earlier than normal because we wanted to get a jump on a project or we simply couldn’t find a better time. I never miss scheduled meetings without due cause. I average more than 50 hours weekly, but these are hours that are largely under my control.

I work hard and I own my schedule.

Like the others on the team I’ve built, I’m a co-owner. I love the project that I’m on. I’m attentive to any fires and I take advantage of our well-oiled process and communication when I want a break. No one judges me for working late. No one judges me for taking personal time. In short, I work when I wanna work.

How I got here:

I worked hard to prove myself by building trust as well as a body of work. Few leaders offer this sort of trust right off the bat, if ever. You may or may not get this in your first role. You may have to work up to it, but just like a higher salary, the quality of life is well worth it. I asked for ownership and when the opportunities came I put the effort in to make sure I didn’t disappoint. When things are going well, no one complains.

The light never comes on if the tank is always full 😉

I chose companies and jobs where autonomy is available and people are trusted. Now that I’m more confident in my work and my ability to deliver high value, I have much more confidence in requiring this working arrangement. Each of my last several employers can attest to how well employees who are given autonomy perform. They like these types of employees and I like those types of companies and leaders. I do my best work when I feel like my effort is valued and has a direct correlation to the project’s success.

I helped implement guidelines, processes, and distributed ownership so I’m not a bottleneck. On my team, everyone has the ability and authority to perform nearly all of the required output for our team. They can make decisions in my absence or even when I’m present. Code can be shipped via automated processes. Other groups have proper channels with which to communicate with us to find answers. When either of us is away for a period of time, the machine keeps running. It’s glorious. (Thanks team, love y’all)

Caveats:

  1. Scheduled meetings. Mostly controllable. I find people to be very flexible and considerate when I set boundaries and protect my time.
  2. High priority bugs. Mostly Avoidable. These are a part of life, but so much can be done to reduce the frequency of work requiring extra effort or time spent outside of normal hours.
  3. Fleeting opportunities. Mostly infrequent. Lightning sometimes flashes in a pan. My desire and ability to capitalize is another thing that makes this lifestyle possible.
  4. Any non-task-based work. If your job requires you to be in a place at a time, this approach obviously won’t work.

I’ve worked this way for the last 9 years across several companies and positions, on the East Coast and the West.

Before this, I worked weekends in retail or down on floors during my days in construction. I don’t miss it. My enjoyment of my work is at an all-time high and I’d say my performance and output are as well. This has been my path. I hope it helps.